“Withholding.”–(Heydrich’s Catholic Church Supplies, Books, Gifts, & Art, June-October 2007, Part III.) (Some of this has been posted already.)

A blog posted on August 15, 2007.

I’ll try to keep all of today straight.

James dropped me off in East Austin. I met with yet another case worker, who talked to me for about an hour and added more info to my online file. She was a bit off-putting, because she had one of those weird Peter Falk-type eyes.

She set me up an appointment on the 30th with a doctor and gave me the number of my case worker, but I have no idea when I’m to meet with the latter. Guess I’ll have to call her.

This is embarrassing, but apparently they’re putting me on disability, despite the fact I’m employed, because I’m not not on Medicare and couldn’t afford the meds otherwise. So apparently that will be extra money coming in, though I don’t know when that will start. She said some people get $700-$900 extra.

[Note: This never came to pass.]

(Now killjoy James tells me they might not actually give me money, but might just pay my drug bills, which really doesn’t help with the other expenses. I frankly couldn’t care less about how they pay for my meds.)

I do have the right to refuse to take certain meds, like if they want to put me on one I’ve had a bad experience with, such as Wellbutrin.

Most of the groups are NOT at this location in East Austin, but are instead at a third location down on South 1st. I had told her I’d wanted to sit in on some sessions today and she suggested the group that was meeting at 11 down south. Then she mentioned there was a Bi-Polar group meeting at this location at 1pm. I said because of the bus I wouldn’t be able to make it to both–which would she suggest I go to–and she said Bi-polar, so I only had one group meeting today.

I think my Case Worker might be over Northwest Austin. The social worker called to ask about groups in my area, but didn’t get me a good answer. They don’t have a master schedule/calendar of all the groups in town. Weekend groups will start in September.

I will be expected to take 6-8 hours of classes a month–not 4-6.

I mentioned I was uncomfortable with and even scared of some of the people I’ve seen in the lobbies of these clinics. She confirmed these were indeed the people in the groups and if I couldn’t work comfortably with them, then I could be re-worked so I could just do one-on-one sessions. I told her I may regret saying this later, but I was for now willing to go a little beyond my comfort zone and try it out if it will help cure me, adding I can always opt out of the group stuff if I get too uncomfortable.

I went into my whole job/career problem thing, and they may be able to find me people to help me and counsel me on that.

My meeting with the social worker was over at 10:30, so I needed to kill some time. I went up to Cisco’s, a little greasy spoon breakfast and lunch place I’d never been to, a favorite of neighborhood folks and politicos. LBJ used to go there. I couldn’t afford food, so I just got a Coke and proofread my book. The Chief of Police came in while I was there.

I went back for the Bi-Polar meeting. Only one other person was there–an older woman who had a profoundly screwed-up life. I was amazed she was still alive: She was a Bi-Polar, diabetic, Crohn’s Disease-suffering, alcoholic, drug addict, smoker, paranoid-schizophrenic who hears voices. Germophobe. Has been raped a few times. has done time for drug possession. The last time she tried to cook she passed out, almost burned her apartment down, and woke up in the hospital. When she has depressive spells she either hides in her apartment or goes out, gets drunk, does coke, does crack, has unprotected sex with strange men, has fights and gets angry. Ex-husband is on heroin. Son is a home-bound, unemployed schizo who doesn’t bathe, has never had sex (the one thing she admired about him), and stays in front of his computer eating crap and playing computer role-playing games, except when he’s in the bathroom. I joked she should never underestimate the importance of time in the bathroom.

If I were her I’d definitely have killed myself.

And no, hearing of her awful lot did not suddenly make me feel I have no problems or that my life is a blessed rose garden.

The group co-ordinator mostly read to us from a hand-out on what Bi-polar is, asked a few questions and let us talk, and said, “Uh huh” a lot. She did say we both seem to have a good handle as to the identity of our problems and are good at self-analysis.

Went downtown, left a note for Paddy at his office at Capital Metro, then ran into him several blocks north, he bought me lunch, then took me by his office again and showed me around and told me more about that job opening up there. Then he dropped me off at church before 5:30 and I didn’t get the bus home until 7:35.

I will scan you some of the sheets I got today, but am too tired and need to start winding up for bed. I have three days of hell ahead of me.

*******    

A blog posted on September 10, 2007.

WHEREIN I HAVE A FACE-OFF WITH DEATH

Monday, 10th, September 5:45pm. I was standing at the southeast corner of Burnet and Koenig waiting for my bus home. Traffic was snarled by road construction.

A siren ripped and a south-bound ambulance brought the traffic to a complete stand-still.

Five minutes later I was startled when a motorcycle cop turned on his siren and made a sharp left turn, also heading south.

I went back to sucking on my Slurpie.   

I also looked south, waiting for a sign of my bus.

I suddenly looked over my left shoulder and saw the Grim Reaper a few feet behind me. He’d just crossed Koenig…also heading south. His head was bowed, no doubt in a gesture of reverence to me.

I don’t know why the sudden appearance of Death surprised me so much, because he can be one sneaky son of a bitch.

Don’t ask me how I can tell this, but I noticed that Death appeared to be in his late twenties to early thirties and Caucasian.

Death was dressed in a black cowl, with an impenetrable black veil covering his face. In one hand he held a long staff, surmounted by a plastic caramel-colored skull. Under his robes he wore blue jeans and athletic shoes.

I gathered Death had just left one of those role-playing game geek-fests at the comic book store nearby and was going home to his parents’ house to fondle his six-sided die, eat pizza, and watch “Stargate” reruns.  

Death crossed Burnet and headed out of sight. His spectators were left at a loss for words.

A poor black guy turned his back on Death, shook his head, looked at me, and said,

–Ho-kaaaaay!

And all I could manage was,

–Hmm, normally I see the Grim Reaper on my way to work, not on the way home.   

The black guy didn’t understand.

But this was not my first encounter with Death. Not by a damn sight.

When I was seven or eight I met Death in my bedroom one night.

I had turned off the light, completed a standing broad-jump from the door to my bed (my method for avoiding getting grabbed by the monsters under my bed), slid under the covers, and took off my glasses.

I am nearsighted as hell, and considered legally blind without my glasses.

After a few minutes my eyes became acclimated to the dark.

One tiny shaft of light peeked through a break in the curtains and illuminated the front of my desk.

And then I saw him–the Grim Reaper.

I was terrified. Too scared to call my mother or to leap for the door. I knew if I made a sound or even the slightest movement he would reach out and kill me.

As the time passed details of his appearance became clearer–his broad-brimmed hat, his skull, his cowl, his bony fingers clutching a scythe and an hour-glass.

My heart pounded. I knew I was seconds away from dying–I saw the sands rapidly running out of the top of the hour-glass.

And then…doubt.

And then…perception.

The well-defined lineaments of the Grim Reaper went fuzzy, and in their place there assembled a much different form: a two-foot tall stuffed Winnie-the-Pooh that I had left in my desk chair earlier in the evening and totally forgotten about. The “cowl” turned out to be Pooh’s red jacket.

This is what happens when a seven-year-old’s favorite artist is Albrecht Dürer.

*******    
A blog posted on October 11th, 2007.

“I have to turn my head until the darkness goes….”
–The Rolling Stones, “Paint It, Black”

Part I
I’ve not blogged in awhile because I’ve been busy tending to my shattered mental health. That business has dominated the months of August, September, and October.

My workdays have fallen into a dull pattern: I wake to classical music at 7am (6:30 if there’s a meeting). Sadly my wake-up music is seldom a fanfare. I take ten to fifteen minutes getting up out of bed, after mentally doing an inventory of my body and hoping to find myself sick. I stand up to see how my legs and aching ankles are doing, go into the bathroom, piss, wash, get a drink, brush my teeth, shave, comb my hair, dress (I don’t iron my clothes anymore—I don’t care how I look at that fucking job), make my lunch, eat a bagel, check my e-mail, pack my backpack, put on my shoes, go to the box of Fred’s ashes and kiss the photo atop it farewell, check the stove to make sure I didn’t leave it on, leave my apartment, trudge on sore feet out of the complex and down the sidewalk alongside the road, hoping not to find any animals killed (the sight of a dead skunk made me cry the other day), go into Randall’s and get the papers and some food, make small talk with the clerk, go to the bus, board, pray from my little 1920s prayer book, read the papers, pray that the day will be over with quickly and not be too hellish for me, think how much I dread going to work, get off the bus, cross the street, unlock the door, sign in, refrigerate my drinks, piss, do the morning’s chore (vacuuming, glass polishing, book-keeping), straighten the books in the book section, prepare the store for opening, and select music that won’t annoy me too much for the store stereo (a harder task than it sounds).

Then I waste eight or nine hours of my life that I’ll never get back peddling mostly useless merchandise to tiresome people, wolf down a bland lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit cup, and chips in thirty minutes—a time allotment better-suited for a kindergartener’s lunch than that of an adult–go back and work at the grindstone again, unpacking books and statues and Precious Moments figurines and over-priced reproductions of paintings, entering them into a computer whose keyboard is way lower than my waist, feeling my back and legs and feet and ankles getting more and more sore, and get a few pointless lectures and assignments from my 5’4” manager, who is a decade-and-a-half my junior, as well as the company president’s nephew. By 1pm I am physically exhausted and my brain is totally worn out and barely capable of processing information.

Then I devote a lot of time to even more pointless acts of busy work, like counting greeting cards. If it’s Friday I unload a shipment of about 27 boxes of merchandise and process them all by myself. Later in the day I get a 15 minute break in the afternoon if anyone remembers to let me have it, collect all the garbage in the store and take it to the dumpster, clock out, un-tuck my shirt and leave if I’m lucky, or stay an extra half-hour doing the books if I’m not, then I walk the block to the corner 7-11 where I hand $1.40 to a kid who looks like Elvis Costello in exchange for a 28-ounce Slurpee, down it before the bus arrives, board the bus and get greeted by the friendly driver in dreadlocks who always calls me “Chief,” read until a large, talkative woman boards and drags me reluctantly into conversation, until we finally de-board at the same stop.

I trudge home, get the mail, unlock the door, erase a phone message from a solicitor, check my e-mail, shower, fill the tub full of Epsom Salts and soak, write, have a good cry, pop some pills, go to my room between 10pm and 1am, read, pray that God will bring all these horrors to an end or finally, mercifully, kill me, then shut off the light, take off my glasses, kiss Fred’s photo again, and hide under the covers.

This happens every working day of my life. And still, no one understand why I wish I was dead.

And so on the 7th and 9th of August, as I mentioned in a previous blog, I went down to one clinic, in the southeast part of downtown, got signed up, entered “the system,” and was diagnosed with Bi-Polar, Level II. During that first morning I was convinced I would not be able to be helped in that dirty, unpleasant building, and I gave up what very little hope I had. There were several times I wanted to bolt out the door but didn’t because James was there, to shame me into staying, if nothing else.

On the 15th I did more signing-up activities at another clinic, in East Austin, then attended a group session, for Bi-Polar sufferers. I was rather annoyed to see the group leader mostly read aloud from a print-out, but she did encourage the two of us at the meeting to tell our stories.

By this point I had told what I’ve come to call “The Story” several times. This is a summary of what’s happened to me in the last six years, commencing with my traumatic lay-off from the only decent job I ever had, and climaxing with my nervous breakdown following the death of my beloved dog, Fred. I have grown tired of telling The Story, and am eager to move along and tell the other tales of my strange and disturbing life.

(People in my program are required to put in 6 to 8 hours a month of group sessions, case worker sessions, and medical sessions, or the computer will automatically spit them out of the program.)

I will refrain from describing the stories I hear in treatment, in order to protect the privacy of the other patients….

Later on during the 15th I met with my friend Paddy to get more information on a job he said was coming open at his agency. But in the following weeks, the job evaporated as quickly and as mysteriously as it had appeared.

The week of the 20th was rather busy. On the 20th itself I met my case worker for the first time and we hung out in the café of my neighborhood supermarket and talked for an hour.

On the 21st I went to South Austin and attended four group sessions. The interior of the building where these group meetings were held stank of insecticide. I made a reluctant visit to the men’s room to take a whiz and found boogers wiped on the wall and standing vomit in the trash can.

Welcome to my nightmare.

The first session was “shoe box collage.” I felt like a real loony sitting in on this, then decided, “What the hell, I’ll just have fun with it.” But I wondered… should I follow instructions or should I make a collage that’d make me seem really crazy and alarm the group leaders? Should I do like Christian Slater and Winona Ryder in “Heathers” and underline the word “Eskimo” to emphasize its cryptic significance in my life?

The object of the exercise was to take a box, then clip pictures and words from magazines and catalogues on the table, and paste on the outside of the box those words and images which express our outer, public selves, and paste expressions of our secret, inner selves inside the box. Those who didn’t want to reveal themselves were asked just to make pretty pictures, and at the end of class we’d vote to see if we wanted to talk about our creations.

I knew I was in trouble from the get-go: Spread all over the work tables were magazines and catalogues: I started thumbing through the newer furniture catalogues not so much to find pictures but to price furniture.

Then I had great difficulty finding images and words that I thought perfectly expressed my inner and outer selves.

About a decade ago, before e-mail was popular, I went through a period where I sent a few select friends letters that I had composed using headlines and captions from newspapers and magazines. Taped onto the page, they rather looked like ransom notes, but if you knew me and the circumstances of my life well enough you could make sense of the messages, and would probably have laughed your ass off as well.

So I applied my design principle from those old ransom letters to this project.

I found a box–a Little Debbie snack cake box–(symbolic of my addiction to junk food!)–flattened it, so there was no inside nor outside, but rather a two-sided plane, open to the scrutiny of the world, then cut off all the lose ends.

On Side One I put the following: a print ad for M&Ms candy with the figure from Munch’s “The Scream” reacting in horror to the sight of an M&M playing hopscotch; a sick Golden Retriever, his head resting on a pillow and topped with an ice bag; a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel asleep in his dog bed; a stuffed bunny rabbit standing on his head with the words on the page reading “healing” and “Play’s the Thing;” a picture of the Louvre and its Pyramid in the Cour Napoléon, with the caption on the page “Away We Go;” and in the center, a Basset Hound sitting in a tub, awaiting a bath. My captions included, “THE PROBLEM IS BIGGER THAN YOU THINK,” “‘You are not in control, and you must regain control,'” “CAN WE REALLY BE PERFECT?,” “A Man of Many Colors,” (and next to the Louvre) “A Movable Feast,” “The Weight of What-If,” “‘The impulse…to prove oneself superior to others,'” and (next to the Basset) “NOW OR NEVER,” and “What Now?”

Side Two featured these images: A Charmin toilet paper ad, with a big bear snuggling up against a roll described as “Soft on the outside, Scented on the inside;” an oil-caked penguin held by gloved hands and getting his feathers brushed clean; Abraham Lincoln and a beaver sitting in a kitchen looking forlorn, with the caption, “your dreams miss you;” a ridiculous photo of George Hamilton in a cowboy outfit, eating a snack cracker (symbolic of my failure to be a “cowboy,” so to speak, of the vast disconnect I feel to my Texas origins); and a happy dog being walked, looking up adoringly at the bottom half of a man, with a bit of a woman on the side, and bearing the caption “Redefined.” The captions state, “A Storied Past,” “VOICES OF THE FALLEN,” “The Move From Hell,” “Message From A Departed Son,” “After The Reversal,” “any day I’m here could be the day I die,” “HOW LOW CAN YOU GO?,” “What Are You Hungry For?,” “Rethinking the Unthinkable,” Just Tell Me What I’m Supposed To Do,” “You promised to take care of me. I don’t understand the ‘if I can afford it’ part,” and under the caption “your dreams miss you:” “You can never have too many.”

All in all a pretty telling piece of work, if I do say so myself.

I’d not finished my project by the end of class, so I took it and the clippings I’d not yet attached back home and finished it there.

After that class I went to an anger management group. But they didn’t talk so much about anger as they did the dangers of stress. I spent a good portion of the hour lecturing on my own experiences, talking directly to the group leader and over the heads of the other participants, who seemed too dazed to notice what was going on anyway.

From there I went to a group on health and nutrition. This was held in a room used primarily for arts and crafts and games. There was a smear of dried blood on the table top. There were also art supplies everywhere, as well as two items that struck me as personally significant: a box of dominoes of the same design and from the same manufacturer as the set my grandfather used to own, and a completed jigsaw puzzle of the Cour Napoléon of the Louvre. Was someone trying to tell me I belonged here?

If so, I’m not sure why. The group leader read from a print-out, listing facts about diet and nutrition I was already well-familiar with. About the only thing I learned was that my intimidation with the cooking process, my inability to follow through with a recipe, might be connected to my mental condition.

During this class the leader, to spice things up, asked different people if they’d like to read. Most of the people asked were barely literate, and it took forever for them to get through the text.

I was asked to read twice, and did so in a booming, properly-enunciated voice. It was quite a show; I sounded like a broadcaster. I have no idea what I said, because I was so busy concentrating on my performance.

When I grew bored I busied myself editing and proofreading the grammar of the hand-outs I’d been given.

At every session I went to that day we were joined by a skinny man who didn’t really pay any attention to what was going on in the classes; he just sat reading the Bible and muttering. I noticed several times that his Bible was sometimes upside down.

At the beginning of the health and nutrition group he tried to sign the sign-up sheet with an “X,” claiming his mother had told him it was a perfectly legal signature. He wanted to argue this with the group leader. Why, I have no idea, because he’d signed his actual name on the sign-in sheets of the previous two classes.

And at the end of the class we were all given evaluation sheets. This guy wrote “BUSh” at the top of his sheet and drew a huge circle around the entire page.

My last group was for people with substance abuse. The leader was a big, burly man with long white hair and a gravely voice. He talked rather like Chris Farley, and whenever he’d come to punch lines he’d add on more gravel.

I kept wondering when and if I’d be exposed as a faker, a poser, and a tourist, because I really don’t have any substance abuse problems, or if, on the contrary, the group would assume I was lying and insist I was concealing my addictions and being dishonest. As it was, nobody cared enough to ask and I didn’t talk all that much. The subject of the meeting was fairly interesting, though, comparing and contrasting healthy types of love to “addictive love.”

Did I mention there was dried blood on the floor of that meeting room as well?

Afterwards I took the bus back downtown. On the way there I passed the State School for the Deaf and saw a big banner advertising their production of “High School Musical.” I then tried to imagine how and why deaf people would perform a musical….

On the 22nd I had to come in early to work so the company president, my manager’s uncle, could hold a boring and pointless staff meeting, wherein he droned on and on about last year’s sales figures and this year’s sales projections–as if hourly wage slaves would give a shit about such nonsense. (I work at a store that sells Christian gifts, books, and church-ware.)

The president was a prim, uptight, and humorless man. Had he not been Catholic I’d have described him as Puritanical. I don’t imagine he’s ever enjoyed himself a day in his life. (Did I mention he used to be an accountant?) Since his is a family company, it’s run the way the family wants it run; new ideas and suggestions to improve efficiency are not entertained.

The president also was quite frank about his racism. Someone discussed better cultivating the Hispanic market, and asked if we ought to try to get some merchandise from Mexico. He brushed aside that suggestion:

–The Mexicans who come into this country are trying to get away from the filth and the squalor down there and improve themselves, so they want better stuff–American products. We tried ordering some goods from Mexico before and it was all just crap.

All morning he stood around with his arms folded, breathing down our necks as we tried to work. This naturally made me anxious and accident-prone. I sought refuge in the break room during lunch, but he came in and tried to start a conversation. He found out I was born in Houston and mentioned he’d lived there four separate times in his life, then added,

–Yeah, I bet Houston’s really gone downhill since they got all the vermin from New Orleans to move there after Katrina.

Now I’m a pretty serious misanthrope, but my God, you’d think the president of a Christian-themed business would be a little more guarded about expressing his racist opinions, wouldn’t you?

*******    

Part II

On Thursday the 23rd I showed up at the East Austin clinic, to attend a mindfulness class given by my Case Worker. This was actually extremely helpful, and taught me some relaxation and breathing techniques.
I’d had bus trouble and was afraid I’d be late. As it was I was early, and got to spend some quality time in the lobby, where I saw, among other things, a woman with no arms. Her hands hung from her shoulders like epaulets, and flopped like rubber kitchen gloves.

I ate lunch downtown at Las Manitas; that’ll probably be the last time I’ll get over there before they move. Afterwards I explored the new “Second Street District,” which is quite chic.

I then was seized with the powerful need to take a dump, but couldn’t think of any buildings in that part of downtown that had bathrooms that were either clean or open to the non-paying public. Finally, I went to the new City Hall, and went through the laborious process of emptying all the crap from my pockets and putting that and my backpack through a metal detector, but was rewarded by a delightful, knee-weakening bowel movement, expressed in tax-payer-funded luxury.

I was feeling ambitious, and eager to help myself some more. And anyway, what else did I have to do with the rest of my day off–go home and cry? So I hopped a bus south to go to the South Austin clinic for another group session.

I showed up at least an hour early for the group meeting. It was listed under the generic label of “Support Group.” I wanted to sit down and read, but the main room was filled with a really desperate group of homeless men watching a supervised movie.

I was finally directed to a room full of couches, where I was told my meeting would later be held. A group of men were loudly discussing the particulars of their treatment. I found the cleanest section of a dirty couch, and sat down. The upholstery felt greasy to the touch.

I opened up “Hadrian VII,” my latest volume of bus/commuting reading, a 1904 novel about a bitter, anti-social, unsuccessful writer who, by virtue of some strange twists, gets elected Pope. I remember I bought the book years ago after reading its last lines:

–Please pray for the repose of His soul. He was so tired.

Eventually most of these Jaspers cleared out and I was left alone with a talkative giant with jack-o-lantern teeth, a Benjy Compson to my Jason Compson. He was holding forth on movies, saying that

–”Fantastic Voyage” was a masterpiece of movie-making.

I thought,

–Dear God! This is just like talking to James!

The group started 30 minutes late and ran for 90 wretched minutes. I had considered walking out before it began. The group leader was a current or possibly former patient.

And the meeting turned out to be for Bi-Polar sufferers. But they didn’t have a sign-up sheet, and I later learned this group wasn’t even part of the program I’m signed up for.

This group turned out to be the most useless I have attended. They even spent about 10 to 15 minutes exchanging lame jokes. I didn’t talk much. The meeting was dominated by one woman who, whenever someone would try to talk or bring up another topic, would invariably interrupt and talk about herself. She had a really downer personality. I couldn’t help but wonder if I seem like that to other people.

After this fiasco I walked over to San Jose Church down the street, and explored the buildings and grounds.

Friday the 24th was a typically stressful day at work.

For several years now I’ve been seeing things out of the corners of my eyes, often at night. These seem to be figures darting around. I think they’re just optical illusions.

James says these are a supernatural manifestation called “shadow people,” and in fact, once commissioned me to research and write an article on the subject.

Since I’ve been seeing these things a lot lately, I mentioned this to one of my co-workers (the unstable one), and she said very matter-of-factly,

–Oh, that’s just the Devil you saw.

–The Devil?

–Oh, but that’s a good thing!

–Why is seeing the Devil a good thing?

–Because that means you’ve caught him—he can’t do anything to you.

On the morning of the 25th I rose from the breakfast table and was seized with an incredible pain in my back, as if I’d been kicked there violently. It hurt so badly I let out an awful scream. I moved stiffly and with great difficulty all that day at work, yet my fucking manager saw fit to make a sarcastic joke about it at the end of the day, implying that I was faking it. That night I took a Vicodin for the pain.

I spent most of the 26th in bed in pain. My in-box was full of awful news. A woman who knows me from the on-line Basset Hound newsletter I subscribe and contribute to has a dog in the final stages of life. Her descriptions of her dog’s condition sounds all too much like those of Fred at the end. And to top it all off this woman just learned she herself has cancer. Then another woman connected with this newsletter went to the doctor feeling poorly and they found two cancerous masses in her brain. They didn’t even let her go home to pack a bag–they rushed her into the hospital that quickly.

Then another friend wrote telling of how her friend had lost her two-year-old son–he’d been run over by accident by his great–uncle. I was saddened to hear this, but lost it when I saw the pictures of what a cute kid he had been.

All this news really wore me down and I started getting crying jags. Bad news and grief and illness make me think of Fred, and so I began bawling all the more. And then I started shaking and feeling very weak and anxious and on edge. By evening I was overcome with panic attacks and physical and mental exhaustion, and unable to face another day of drudgery and being on my feet, so I took another Vicodin and called in sick before I even retired for the night.

Monday the 27th was my third or fourth time to call in sick that month. I called a clinic and arranged for one-on-one sessions with a therapist, to be conducted every Thursday afternoon for the foreseeable future. My case worker had given me brochures on two clinics. One was closer to my house, but allowed a maximum of only thirty visits. The other clinic, the one I decided to go with, has no limit to its visits. I suspect it may take more than thirty visits to get me on the straight and narrow.

That day I received an e-mail from another woman who knows me from the Basset Hound newsletter. She wrote asking if I would be interested in taking a Basset she’s been fostering. The Basset has had some trouble socializing with other dogs and sometimes growls at people, but is over-all very sweet, and despite having apparently come from an abusive home, is desperate to love and be loved. She said the head of the local Basset rescue group thinks this dog would otherwise be unadoptable and should probably be euthanized, but my friend wanted to see if I’ll take her first.

I’m still weighing the case. A few people have advised me that I have too much going on with my own psychological problems to take on a dog at this time, and part of me agrees with that, but I also think a dog would be a good thing for me. Plus I’d hate to have this dog’s blood on my hands.

I should mention that because of my current financial situation there would be no adoption fee for the dog and the rescue group and my friend would pay for the dog’s food and vet bills until I get on my feet again.

This story is still developing….

On the 28th I had a simple errand to run: sort through some IRS papers, go to the bank, make a deposit, make a withdrawal, walk across the parking lot, get a money order at the grocery store, then go next door to a mailing place and mail my payment to the IRS.

But this process stressed me out unbelievably, as I tried to sort out what document went where and how much money was to go this place or that. And during the process I saw a cricket in the middle of the grocery store, took pity on him, wrapped him in my hanky, put him in my pocket, and after finishing all these IRS tasks, let him lose in a patch of grass. My exertions were such I went home and slept the rest of the day.

On Wednesday the 29th my manager gave me a quick employee evaluation of sorts. Basically I outlined my current duties and he mentioned a few things he wants to teach me before the next evaluation in December. I didn’t bother to mention that I don’t plan to stay that long (God, I hope my treatment schedule doesn’t force me to stick with this fucking job just because other jobs might not accommodate all the time off I need).

But as the evaluation was wrapping up the manager brought up the subject of my calling in sick so much:

–You’ve missed three Mondays in August and I think at least one other day as well; I don’t have to explain what that seems to indicate.

–Yes, actually you do, because I’m not following you.

–Well, generally when an employee calls in sick on Mondays after the weekend on a regular basis it’s a sign of drug or alcohol abuse.

–[Snorting with amusement and contempt] Well, that’s clearly not the problem, but I did tell you I’m getting treatment for Bi-Polar, Level II, didn’t I?

–Yes, but if you call in sick again you’ll need to bring me a note from a doctor.

–Well, normally when I have these problems that cause me to miss work I don’t go to a doctor for them.

*******    

Part III

The following day, August the 30th, I had an appointment with a physician connected with this program I’m in. Also in attendance were my Case Worker and an Asian doctor who didn’t say one word the entire time–he just smiled and wrote things down.

My Case Worker sat with me awhile in lobby before the appointment.

I told her about the manager asking for a doctor’s note. I also told the doctor of this later. All my Case Worker said was,

–Now this is the job you’ve been planning on leaving anyway, right?

(James says case workers never really take stands, just often mirror what the patient says and act supportive.)

I told my Case Worker about my crying jags and my depression the previous Sunday, about missing work, anxiety, that woman who offered me the dog, and some other things I’ve forgotten now.

I told her I’d set up weekly appointment with therapist. I said I wish I could go more often, but she said I needed time in between to work on healing.

I then went back in to the office area and was weighed (252 lbs.) My blood pressure was 122/73.

Then they had me open my arms as they took a tape measure to my chest. I was tempted to say,

–I’d like single-breasted with side-vents.

My Case Worker looked alarmed at the doctor when I said I’d been worried and had even put off getting treatment because I didn’t want to be counseled or drugged into being happy with living my life as it is now, a drudge in a low-paying dead-end job. I know mindfulness (which she teaches) and all that often involves living in and accepting the moment–including “radical acceptance.” I said I want my life to change and improve–I have no intention of trying to be happy under my current circumstances.

We discussed much: my childhood seizures, possible abuse by biological father, my concussion, my depression from 1983 onward, my nervous breakdown over Fred, my childhood psychiatric treatments, my IBS, OCD, ADD, math disability, aversion to driving, “flooding” from ADD, Ritalin usage, all my depression meds, my germophobia, anxiety, anti-social behavior, excessive sleeping and eating, whether I had any history of alcohol and drug use, my irritability, sensitivity to noise, the fact I am single and childless, my recent patterns in jobs and how I get and quit them, my panic attacks, and how I don’t feel like an adult. I gave them the names and numbers for the three doctors I’ve had since 2003 as well as the shrink I briefly visited.

I mentioned about how my head and brain sometimes feel like they’re overheating or like a boiling kettle and he attributed that to anxiety–not a tumor or anything, as James had so helpfully suggested.

The doctor asked about my manic episodes and I explained my manifestations of anger in all shapes and forms, my spending sprees, and my extreme irritability. He asked how long my manic episodes lasted and I said they could last for minutes to a few days and then switch over to depression in as many minutes or days. Sometimes I said depression approaches like a thunderstorm–I see it coming but can’t stop it– other times it just appears.

He asked about how I panic before work and how I react once I get there.

I was in the doctor’s office for 90 minutes. My Case Worker had to leave after 70. I have to wonder if they wrote my whole deposition down. Occasionally I caught my Case Worker looking out the window or the doctor looking bored and rubbing his eyes or pinching the bridge of his nose.

I’m to meet with nurse in six weeks and the doctor in three months.

The doctor gave me samples of Lamictal, staged in doses of various sizes, to use as a mood stabilizer. I was concerned, as type-face of the med looked familiar and I wondered if I had taken it before with bad results.

Lamictal’s side-effects include forgetfulness, rashes, and depression. The drug is often given to Bi-Polar and seizure patients. The doctor also gave me a prescription for Ativan, which I am to take for anxiety. He had considered Depakote as a mood stabilizer, but said I might put on weight with that.

He noted that I get stressed on Sundays prior to work, and suggested I get out of the house then. I didn’t get a chance to tell him I’m always so physically exhausted from two days at the store that I don’t have the strength to do anything.

I must’ve seemed like I was talking 90 mph (which is a symptom of mania), but I wanted to give everybody as much information as I could and I didn’t feel I had enough time to do so.

Downstairs in the lobby I had to set some appointments, but not before I got to stand for some time behind a young man who’d shat his pants.

I began worrying about the Lamictal, that I had taken it to ill effect….By the time I got home I was fighting back tears I was so worried about this fucking medicine. I really didn’t want a repeat of all the bad side effects I had between 2003 and 2005.

On the 31st I made the first of several aborted attempts to fill my Ativan prescription, going first to the pharmacy at my corner supermarket. I had to wait a half-hour, while the lady pharmacist waited on the phone trying to find out what agency was or was not going to pay for my drugs.

As time passed I got more and more irritated…and observant.

A woman came up to a pharmacist and asked,

–What aisle for the thermometers?

And I was tempted to bark out,

–Why don’t you try looking up your ass?

A little boy came out of the men’s room with his daddy, and loudly greeted his mother by saying,

–I SAT ON THE POT AND I GO POOP IN THE POTTY!!!

After that I got up to stretch my legs, and was amused to find at the end of an aisle (what they call an “end cap” in retail) a big cardboard display for weight-loss supplement Trim Spa, adorned with air-brushed photos of a lithe and healthy Anna Nicole Smith, who has long since been converted into worm-fodder. The advertising slogan, above Smith’s loopy signature, was “Be envied.”

Yes, Anna, the dead are the only ones truly worthy of envy. No one can hurt you anymore, you dim-witted, pill-addled, big-titted rascal.

On September the 4th I made a long-delayed visit to my regular doctor’s office to get blood-work done, but because I have “rolling veins” (my veins are shallow and retreat from needles—supposedly this is common in people with chronic illnesses or dehydration or low blood pressure) the nurse poked a hole on the inside of my left arm and had no success, and finally got the blood from the back of my right hand.

My manager is a firm believer in the necessity of wasting the staff’s time. Though we have a staff of only three, he tries to have a staff meeting every week, as if there’s actually enough news to impart to the staff with that great a frequency—news that cannot be conveyed by means of a memo on the bulletin board or him just walking up to the front counter and telling us. This means that every Friday I get 30 minutes less sleep, yet am paid a whopping $3.83 for my trouble.

The catch is, if there are other events during the week, the meeting can get canceled, which leads me to believe the point of these meetings is not so much the conveyance of information as the flexing of muscles, the expression of management’s supposed power over the staff, the notion of “I am your Boss, your God, and I can hire you and fire you and I can also waste your time if it be my will.”

So on the 5th we were expecting a huge early morning shipment from the home office, and so we were scheduled to all come in 30 minutes early to help unpack all this shit. It turned out to consist almost entirely of Christmas items and boxes of candles—virtually nothing that we needed right now, and certainly none of the merchandise that would actually be selling RIGHT NOW if we had it in fucking stock.

So I arrived early and annoyed, went in to sign my time card, and saw on the calendar that the delivery had been rescheduled for noon…and the manager hadn’t even had the common fucking courtesy to call me and tell me there was no need to come in early after all!…

After work I headed south to the Dobie Theatre to see “Rocket Science,” a quirky film about a socially awkward teen with a fucked up home life and a profound stutter, who joins the debate team in order to impress a girl he likes. It reminded me a great deal of a film from a couple years ago–”Thumbsucker,” about a socially awkward teen who sucks his thumb when feeling stressed and who joins the debate team in his search for identity.

I could sympathize somewhat with the hero of “Rocket Science,” because 25 or 26 years ago I signed up to audition for the high school play because I saw a girl I liked was auditioning too. I reasoned that if we were both cast then I could spend a lot of time in her presence after school at rehearsals and on long bus trips to drama contests. And during that time I could win her over.

I had initially considered trying out for a small role, since the lead role was all but sewn up by this arrogant transfer student who had extensive theatrical experience doing Gilbert and Sullivan in summer stock. But at the last minute I read over the lead part, found it fit me like a glove, decided to give it a try, and auditioned for it instead.

Not surprisingly, I got the starring role, while the girl I was into landed a minor job on the crew—along with the transfer student. In short order my one-sided romance was competing with my need for self-aggrandizement, Eros battling Ego, with the latter eventually winning, as it always does with me.

On the 6th I had to get up early and take a couple buses to the East Austin clinic to attend to some bureaucratic matters affecting my treatment. Suffice it to say an explanation of what that was all about would be lengthy and boring. But I finished early and then had to bus it to my first one-on-one therapy session in Northeast Austin. I was very early, so I explored the neighborhood, then went to the office. The building was nice, and there weren’t a bunch of scary-looking people hanging about, as there are at those other offices and clinics I now have to frequent.

The waiting room for the therapy clinic was dimly-lit and pleasantly furnished. It didn’t smell of piss or shit. AND they had the stereo tuned to a classical station. I went to the window of the front office and saw no one in there; I assumed they’d gone to lunch.

The station was doing a tribute to Luciano Pavarotti, who had died overnight, and was playing his recording of “La donna è mobile,” (“Woman is fickle”–appropriately enough), so while I waited and regretted never having seen Pavarotti live, I started mouthing along the words in Italian, even singing faintly in a few places. Luciano and I had both reached the “Muta d’accento” High C in the second refrain when the receptionist came out and caught me enraptured; I was worried she thought I was talking to myself.

(By the way, I have only two degrees of separation from the Maestro—he was once interviewed by an old boss of mine.)

I took an immediate liking to my new therapist, and in 50 minutes managed to fill her in on many of the “Astonishing Tales of B___” from November 2, 1963 to September 6, 2007. I have high hopes for our association; I only wish we weren’t limited to just one session a week.

I am sure all these folks will be able sooner or later to fix my troubled brain; what worries me is whether or not anyone—myself included—will be able to fix my fucked up life and give me the kind of lifestyle I am so desperate to have.

The next two days were spent on the job, and as a result were an almost complete waste. The 8th was so hectic and stressful I almost broke down in tears at the cash register. And at some point some ignorant little kid asked if a statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe was in fact a porcupine, this conclusion drawn from the spiky appearance of the beams of light coming off Her person.

One day a co-worker and I were discussing our efforts at confronting people who are cruel to dogs. I mentioned how recently I was in my supermarket parking lot and saw a big Retriever in a car, albeit with the windows down. Since I always have paper on my person I wrote a note–

–Please don’t leave your dog in a hot car. He’s wearing a fur coat.

then left it under the windshield wiper. I’m sure several people saw what I’d done, because I’d only been in the store for two minutes when some employee got on the loud-speaker and announced,

–Will the owner of the car with license plate number ABC-123 please go out to the parking lot? Your dog is in distress.

And I heard hundreds of voices all over the store respond with a hurt,

–Awww.

I hope the asshole learned his lesson.

My co-worker told of a similar story, only she found the prick inside the post office and told him off.

At this point my manager looked blankly and said,

–It’s just a dog.

I wanted to bludgeon that fucker to death on the spot. Few sentences get me angrier than that one. And my manager forfeited then and there any chance at my regarding him as a decent human being. And then, amazingly enough, a few minutes later he was saying how he and his new wife are considering adopting a retired and rescued racing Greyhound. They’ll probably be the types who’ll dump the dog at a kill shelter as soon as little “Kelsey” and “Kamaron” pop out.

I took the advice of a co-worker and bought some Epsom Salts and soaked in my bathtub filled with that and warm water, in an attempt to rid myself of some of the aches and pains that come from working on my fucking feet all day. And I must say the treatment helped somewhat, and afterwards I was so relaxed and gelatinous all I wanted to do was glide into bed.

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